The Central government informed Rajya Sabha that the recorded forest area in the country is 7,67,419 sq km, as surveyed by the India State of Forest Report, 2019.
- It has so far not quantified the forest area that has been under dispute.
- The recorded forest area in the country:
- 4,34,853 sq km falls under the Reserved Forests category,
- 2,18,924 sq km under the Protected Forests category, and
- 1,13,642 sq km are of unclassed forests.
- The word ‘forest’ is not defined in any Central Forest Act, namely the Indian Forest Act (1927), or the Forest Conservation Act (1980).
- The Central government has not laid down any criterion to define forest.
- The states are responsible for categorising forest land, and it is the states that resolve dispute between these two departments.
- The Indian Forest Act, 1927 gives states the rights to notify Reserved Forests in their areas.
- As such forest area under dispute for the country has not been quantified by the Ministry.
- Wastelands in India: As per the Wasteland Atlas, 2019, published by the Ministry of Rural Development, the total wasteland in the country is 5,57,665.51 sq km.
- Wasteland is defined not as desertified land, but land that is not used for agriculture, commercial use or as forest land. For instance, it could use grasslands, that are used by communities for grazing.
- Rights such as that of grazing of animals are often not recorded, and the local community does not need to be consulted if the land were to be reclassified as ‘forest’ and diverted by the forest department. This often leads to disputes between local communities and governments.
- Main causes for disputes: Most of the disputes over forest areas in the country arise from the contradictions in the legal status of the land versus its actual use and status on the ground.
- Land that is demarcated as forests under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 by the Forest Department may or may not actually have a forest standing on it.
- On the other hand there are forests which are un-demarcated or not under the purview of the Forest Department.
- The Supreme Court in the Godhvarman case ordered for bringing under purview of the Forest Conservation Act 1980 those forests which fall under the dictionary meaning of ‘forests’ irrespective of the legal category.
- However, as far the FRA 2006 is concerned it grants forest rights to tribals and other traditional forest dwellers on all types of classified and unclassified and deemed forests as well.
Question- The Forest Rights Act provides various rights to tribal population. Explain. Also give reasons for legal tussle between government and tribals over land use.
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